Over the last month, my focus has been upon how Sunday School can help the church carry out the Great Commission: “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20). This started from Questions about Making Disciples Through Sunday School where I asked twenty questions about this issue–of which question thirteen is this one:
What should be the expectation following every Sunday School session for applying the truth of God’s Word?
I have written about the importance of application in several blog posts over the years. To not do what we know is sin. Too many times we have acted like Jesus in the Great Commission told us that the way to make disciples is “teaching them to know what I commanded you.” But Jesus did not say know; He said “obey.” There is a huge difference. That is one of the big differences between teaching and disciple-making. When Sunday School shifts to assisting believers to take steps toward obedience, it is assisting the church with disciple-making.
We should also remember what Paul said about church leaders including teachers in Ephesians 4:11-13 (NIV):
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Paul said that Jesus gave church leaders to the church “to prepare God’s people for works of service.” We are to practice what we have been taught, and we are to equip the saints. We do so until we (and they) are like Jesus. According to Jesus, we are to be “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” We are to obey the commands of Christ, and we are to teach others to do the same. It is following Jesus’ example in making disciples.
Application is a piece missing from many Sunday School lessons and sermons. Application is more than simply understanding that God’s Word “applies” to me and my situation. That is important, but the application here refers to more. It refers to carrying out the truth. It’s about obedience.
But application does not just happen. It begins with a teacher leading the class to have an encounter with God in His Word. God has the power to change lives. Following the encounter in which learners have been led to understand the context, the importance of the truth for today, and its application for them, learners need encouragement and help in taking next steps. They need to be led prayerfully to consider and commit to the appropriate response to the truth.
Then they need to be sent out to apply it. And one way to encourage them to follow through on their commitment when we have sent them out to do it is to announce a time to report back on how they did at applying the truth. I recently talked about this at length in the series, Discipling Through Sunday School Jesus’ Way, Part 1, Discipling Through Sunday School Jesus’ Way, Part 2, Discipling Through Sunday School Jesus’ Way, Part 3, and Discipling Through Sunday School Jesus’ Way, Part 4.
Expectation for this to happen begins with Jesus: “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Then the expectation needs to be shared consistently by the teacher. The teacher will be taken seriously when he/she lives a life of obedience but is transparent about struggles. Otherwise, attenders may not believe they can live up to the example of the teacher.
The teacher at the end of each lesson must take time to lead learners to respond to the truth of the lesson. And time must be planned in next week’s lesson to call attenders to report on steps of obedience. Yes, Sunday School can actually do this. And revolutionary Sunday School must to this in order to shift from teaching to disciplemaking. I encourage you to begin small. Lead learners to successfully take steps in this direction. Raise expectations. Make disciples. Be revolutionary!